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Ed Koch: Fiercely Jewish But Buried in a Churchyard

He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City. "This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."
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It was spookily ironic that former New York City mayor Ed Koch died on the anniversary of the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, when Koch had long ago chosen to have etched on his headstone the final words of Daniel Pearl, spoken just before Muslim terrorists beheaded him.

On Koch’s headstone, beneath a Mogen David, are the words:

“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

No one could doubt the pride in his religion, but following his funeral at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, Koch’s remains were buried in a plot outside the Episcopalian Trinity Church in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted, “Just think about it, a Polish Jew, in an Episcopalian Churchyard, in a largely Dominican neighborhood.”

Koch bought his burial plot in 2008, when the Trinity Churchyard was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had plots available.  He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City.  “This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

In addition to quoting Daniel Pearl’s last words, Ed Koch chose the words for the rest of the inscription on the support stone of his tombstone.  It reads:

He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.

Above that, on the tombstone itself, is the first line of the Shema.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

It is highly unorthodox for a Jew to be buried in a churchyard, but the greatest concern is the sanctity of the individual graves, not the cemetery. Some rabbis believe it to be permissible if, surrounding the plot containing the Jewish remains, there is an enclosure or physical barrier about 40 inches high, thereby effectively creating a separate cemetery.

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About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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13 Responses to “Ed Koch: Fiercely Jewish But Buried in a Churchyard”

  1. Les Legato says:

    Hot tip for Koch wannabes – Jews don't put the tombstone up the same day of burial – we wait 11-12 months (Read "The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning" and/or CYLOR).

  2. Samuel Abbo says:

    LET PUT IT THIS WAY: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR(S) AS THEYSELF. YOU DESERVE IT ED. PLEASE DOn't FORGET US WHEREVER YOU ARE.

  3. Barb Adelman Seidman says:

    There are four additional botoughs in NYC, each eith Jewish cemeteries.

  4. But none like this one! This one is very close to the Subway and has easy access to it! As Koch says he wants everyone to be able to visit him any time they want to!

  5. I feel saddened by this news. In all of NYC there was no Jewish cemeteries that Ed Koch could have been buried in. I find that hard to believe! I always thought a lot of Ed Koch will he was alive. He was a tower of strength to the people of New York in those dark days after the towers came down. I have to say I am a little disappointed in his reasons for not being buried in a Jewish Cemetery. However he was a good man though.

  6. Lynne Marton says:

    He still thought of the people first! I have always admired him – and now, even though he chose an unorthodox burial, he's still #1!

  7. Charlie Hall says:

    Minor quibble: The graveyard is indeed in the largely Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, and is indeed run by Trinity Church, but the actual Trinity Church is in lower Manhattan, so Mayor Koch is not just "outside the church" but over ten miles away. The Church does not run it as a Christian cemetery but (obviously) allows anyone to be buried there. I think it is the only cemetery of any type in Manhattan that has any gravesites available.

  8. Charlie Hall says:

    Not true; there are no Jewish cemeteries in the Bronx. The largest synagogues in the Bronx control large blocks of gravesites at a cemetary in New Jersey.

  9. Charlie Hall says:

    That said, while Washington Heights is a mostly Dominican neighborhood, it is also home to Yeshiva University, several Orthodox synagogues, and several yeshivot.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    There still are three Jewish cemeteries in Manhattan, all maintained by Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America. I think all three were full by the 1850s and SI now has a graveyard in Brooklyn. There were other Jewish cemeteries in Manhattan, but the lure of dollars was too great; they were sold, and the bodies disinterred and reburied elsewhere.

  11. Amy Siegel says:

    Yes, I thought the same thing! Typical Manhattan snobbery not to want to go to the outer boros!

  12. Miles W. Rich says:

    My mother is interred in the mausoleum in that cemetery. There are a lot of Jews buried there, including my mother. Like Ed Koch, she loved Manhattan and did not want to leave there. In fact, had she had control of where she died, she never would have chosen the Bronx.

  13. Miles W. Rich says:

    They are NOT in Manhattan. To the people of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Richmond are NOT NY.

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